1954 is notable for having three of the absolute greatest films ever made in it. Straight up, when people rank the best of the best — these movies will show up within the first 150.
Now’s also a good time to talk about the big elephant in the room as it relates to the 50s — television. The rise of television, coupled with studios having to give up ownership of their theaters meant they were increasingly nervous about the future of their product. (That’s right, this has been going on for years.) So they started making these gimmicks to get people into the theater. First, it was CinemaScope. And Cinerama. And all the different variants. Then it was 3D. There are a bunch of movies that were originally released in 3D spread around the 50s.
The other thing they did was find things TV couldn’t offer, like exotic locations. There was an increasing trend in the 50s of “runaway production,” which was essentially going off and shooting films entirely in other countries. The big one in this era was Italy. A lot of movies were shot on location in Italy in the 50s. (more…)
Pic of the Day: “You know why I like plants?” “Nuh uh.” “Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.” “Yeah but it’s easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. They just move on to whatever’s next. With a person though, adapting is almost shameful. It’s like running away.”
My favorite year of the 50s. 1953 has such amazing movies that are so near and dear to my heart. It just makes me happy to think about it. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the strongest year of the 50s, though I think it does make a solid case for itself as such. There are some all-time great films in this year.
What I love about this top ten list in particular is how it’s full of great directors. The top ten has films from Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Sam Fuller, George Stevens, Vincente Minnelli, Fred Zinnemann and Howard Hawks. Not only that, but they’re all classic films of theirs. These are films that are among people’s favorite films of all time. And on top of that, there are two films on here that are such gems and films that I love so much that it makes me happy just to think that they’re here.
I really love 1953. (more…)
1952 seems about the right time to address the elephant in the room. There are really only two major historical events that greatly impacted the film industry in the 50s. One we’ll get into in a couple years. Here, we need to address the first one, which is the Blacklist.
After World War II, the biggest threat to the American people was perceived to be Communism. The Soviet Union and America, the great superpowers, the Cold War — all that. America was really nervous about a communist influence seeping into its culture, a big part of which was, of course, Hollywood. Hollywood is generally a liberal place and a lot people had either openly been communists in the 30s or had at least dabbled in it for a while. And now that there was the House Un-American Activities and Joseph McCarthy, it wasn’t good for there to be communists hanging around. So in 1947, the first open blacklist in Hollywood happened. Which is the famous Hollywood Ten. It lasted for about 13 years, famously ending when Dalton Trumbo was credited for writing Spartacus.
But what was prevalent during this period, especially in the late 40s and early 50s, was a great divide in Hollywood. Stars were called to testify, to deny their connections to communism or communist sympathies, while also being called to “name names.” Essentially give up those people who were communists. Which is like being told to snitch on your friends and coworkers and ruin their lives for a “greater good.” And there were people who happily did this (Walt Disney), and others who opposed it (Bogart). But there were hundreds of people whose lives and livelihoods were ruined by being branded “un-American.” John Garfield actually died because of the stress his blacklisting inflicted on him. (more…)
I feel like there are two very important things to discuss for 1951. The first is color. I feel like 1951 is that year where we definitively reached the point where the majority of films were in color. I don’t think statistically that’s the case, but I feel like this year is the one where, after this, color is the norm for films and black and white is reserved for lower budgeted films or specific genres. That’ll definitely be the case once CinemaScope shows up in a couple of years.
The other major thing about 1951 is the beginning of a genre. Or at the very least, the beginning of a genre as we know it. And that’s sci fi. Sci fi existed in several forms before this, but this is the year where all the tropes we recognize — aliens, flying saucers, time travel, space exploration — this is when they all began. (And, as an added bonus, the sci fi films of this era also were Cold War-related.)
Outside of that, we’re starting to get into an era where most people would recognize the majority of my lists without needing much explanation as to what they’re about. Which means that all the hidden gems on the lists that people don’t know about are gonna be way more noticeable. Which is exciting. (more…)
1950 as a year feels pretty noir heavy. Even the top films have a darkness and cynicism to them. The two big films of the year are, of course, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the year.
You’re gonna see a lot of noirs and westerns here, because those are what were mass produced during this era. But what you’ll also find a a couple of really great hidden gems, including one of my favorite movies that absolutely nobody knows about.
That might be the theme for this year and the 50s in general — a lot of the obvious choices are there at the top, but some of the stuff below the line is some of the best stuff that you don’t know about, but really ought to. (more…)
Pic of the Day: “Now is the time for a digression in which to describe our heroes’ feelings. Arthur keeps watching his feet, but his mind’s on Odile’s mouth and her romantic kisses. Odile is wondering if the boys notice her breasts moving under her sweater. Franz thinks of everything and nothing. He wonders if the world is becoming a dream or if the dream is becoming the world.”
1949 is a year that has some great films. The best thing about them is that they all feel like hidden gems, even though they’re probably all classics.
Of course we need to start with the obvious film — one of the absolute greatest films ever made, a benchmark in its genre, one of the most gorgeously photographed films of all time and a film that remains one of my five favorite films of all time. So that’s of course gonna lead the pack. But the rest of them are all great films that I feel most people don’t see often enough. It’ll increase as the list goes on.
I’ve always had a real affinity for this year. This is the year that’s rife with stuff that I’d jump to recommend to people. (more…)
1948 might be my favorite year of the 40s. Just because the top ten list feels like a complete list of ten that I out and out love.
There’s also a lot of great stuff below the line, but the key to this one is the top ten. The top three are straight up “best films ever made” material. And the others are just straight classics and/or great films by great directors who are right in their prime.
Get ready for this one, guys. It’s a very good year. (more…)
So 1944 for me was about the rise of the noirs. 1947 is the year of the noir. There are 22 of them on this list. 22! This is as cynical as it got for Hollywood.
That’s really the overwhelming theme for 1947: dark and cynical. Which is funny, because one of the most uplifting Christmas movies ever made (I guess, actually… two of them) came out this year. But man, there’s not a lot of uplift in here. Even the major film of the year about how awful society is.
But hey, alongside the darkness, we also have one of the most beautiful films ever shot. So there’s that. (more…)
This may be the strongest year of the 40s. At least at the top. I’ll probably also make that case for 1948, but this year feels so strong because quite legitimately, the top four films on my list would be #1 films in just about ANY other year. And they’re also all-time greats. Two of them are legitimately two of the top 50 American movies ever made.
Aside from that, you have a smattering amazing movies. This is the kind of list where you get to a film and just think, “Ohh…. yeah.” And it gives you that feeling of happiness because it’s just so great. I love years like this.
I really don’t have a whole lot more to add. Just… look at these ten films. How great are they? (more…)
I like 1945 because of the history surrounding it. World War II was basically over. It ended in June, though it had been a long time coming. By Christmas, 1944, it was pretty inevitable that the Allied countries would win. So you don’t really see a whole lot of war-oriented films out there. We’re returning to classical Hollywood storytelling.
There’s not a major overarching theme for this year. All things considered, it’s actually a pretty ho-hum year. Good stuff, but the overall quality of the films feels diminished from most of the other years of the 40s.
Though this is actually the year where foreign cinema started rising. Italian Neorealism began with Rome, Open City and that led to a lot of the major European movements over the next two decades. (more…)
For me, the big thing about 1944 is the noirs. I know the war is still in full force and the dominant set of films are either pro-war movies or light and fluffy stuff to take people’s minds off of it. But really, the thing that stands out is the amount of noir films that came out this year. This is really the first year where the noirs are a staple of cinema. Sure, all those other ones were the headliners, but the noirs played in front of all of them.
You look at this list — maybe 7 or 8 noirs in total. And it’ll only grow from here. This is the time when the cynical underbelly of society started to pop up. Most people speak of that popping up post-war. With everyone returning to the suburbs and people’s collective weariness about the war and all of that starting to creep into the films. But you really start to see it as early as 1944. It doesn’t solidify until after the war, but you definitely start to see it happening as early as now. I’d say the noirs here are much more “drama”-leaning. That is to say, they’re presented more like dramas than what we’d consider the traditional noirs. But they’re still noirs by any account.
That’s how I look at this list — great comedies, great war films, and that nice underbelly of noirs. Just how I like it. (more…)
1943 is the weakest year of the early 40s, and a lot of that has to do with one thing and one thing only: World War II. A lot of the top directors in Hollywood (the ones with the highest percentage of great films) were off participating in the war. There’s a great book (and documentary) about it called Five Came Back. The big five are John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler. Of the five, only one has a movie that came out this year, and that was because he was finishing his obligations before joining the war.
With those directors gone, it’s pretty slim pickings at the top. That’s not to say there aren’t really good films here, but there’s a marked difference between the overall quality of films in 1941 and 1942 vs. 1943. And it’s totally understandable. America is in the thick of the war effort and the industry doesn’t really have the time or the money to churn out the amount of films they had been.
The other thing I like about 1943 is the overall influx of Technicolor films. Still a primarily black-and-white top ten, but there’s definitely more color all around, and good use of color, too. (more…)